“Cold Fusion” closes off a great season of Archer with a not-so-great episode, but thankfully an average episode of Archer is still funnier than most other shows on TV.
This recap of Archer season 11, episode 8, “Cold Fusion”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
If someone told me that the finale of this season of Archer was going to be a locked-room whodunit in remote Antarctica, I’d have been convinced that there’s no way that could go wrong. Archer finales always contrive an excuse to get the whole band together, and that mixed with the setting and the ceaseless riffs on old-fashioned mysteries seemed like a recipe for perfection. But “Cold Fusion” falls way below that level, instead coming in as one of the weaker episodes of this impressive season overall, and that’s a crying shame.
None of this is to say that the episode was bad. They never are. There’s always a generous helping of genuinely funny gags and fun dynamics and animation flourishes to make a single episode worthwhile, so you have to judge them according to the standards they set for themselves. That’s where “Cold Fusion” falls down a bit since it isn’t really aspiring to be the best version of an Archer finale or a murder-mystery spoof or anything, for that matter. It’s all of these things in small doses, but not enthusiastically or dedicatedly enough to leave much of a lasting impact.
This is especially true when you consider it in the context of this entire season, which has had a lot of interesting ideas about Archer’s post-coma headspace and how his time away affected not just him but his colleagues. There are passing acknowledgments to all that has come before here, from Ray making jokes about Cyril’s regression over the last few episodes, to a near-death Archer experiencing a vision of Crackers. But they’re fun Easter Eggs rather than genuine causal links; “Cold Fusion” really doesn’t do the thing a finale is supposed to, which is pulling together all the disparate themes and character arcs into something cohesive. We saw nothing of Robert, saw no reconciliation between Archer and Lana, and didn’t get any development in how anyone actually considers Archer now that he’s back and here to stay. A lot of the gags rested on longstanding quirks – Mallory’s drinking, Cheryl’s thinly-veiled psychopathy, Lana’s general unpleasantness to other women, etc. – that felt well-established several seasons ago.
The murder-mystery plot could have saved it, and there’s still a bit more energy in the team investigating a killing on a remote research base than there is anywhere else. Archer himself is having a grand old time playing the gumshoe role, and there are some funny jokes at the expense of the genre, even if the supporting characters are a thin collection of weird accents and behavioral tics rather than genuine personalities. Naturally, the small-scale whodunit gives way to a much more grandiose world-ending plot involving hydrogen bombs and the rapid melting of the icecaps, and it requires a typically heroic almost-self-sacrifice from Archer to wrap up. That’s in service of an overarching point that this bunch of malcontents actually rely on Archer’s derring-do so that they can just be themselves; far from having improved in his absence, their competency was the façade, and Archer’s return hasn’t caused their regression, but an embrace of who they really are. Cheryl is nuts, Pam is horny, Mallory is drunk, Cyril is useless, Krieger is insane – these are everyone’s most basic traits, and “Cold Fusion” argues that they’re also their most essential characteristics.
Fair enough. It isn’t a terrible gag, and it puts the already-confirmed twelfth season in a position to follow on directly rather than having to reboot or rejig anything. And, if we’re being frank, Archer is so funny when it’s firing on all cylinders that it could conceivably run forever, in any form. But it would have been nice to see something more from this finale or at the very least a more thorough-p**s-take of the murder-mystery genre. But at least there’s always next year.
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